I heard about The Face Pressed Against A Window (A Memoir) written by Tim Waterstone whilst listening to Iain Dale’s Book Club podcast and immediately ordered a copy. I always love a book about books and people inspired by books.
We follow the story of Tim Waterstone and how he was inspired to build his book empire from start to finish. It is certainly an interesting and inspirational read and one that I simply could not put down.
Tim tells the warts and all about the life of a bookseller and the hurdles he had to jump over, from publishing houses turning their backs on him, to being laughed out of the bank when he went for a business loan. What I felt throughout this memoir was the passion Tim had for books and getting his bookshop right for his customers.
“Waterstone’s was a statement of personal confidence and drive and tenacity, a statement of personal confidence and drive and tenacity, a statement that great things can be achieved, a statement that vision matters, that leadership matters, that culture matters, that books matter.”
Tim was very particular about his staff as he wanted passionate book lovers who had just left university to gain experience and knowledge from Waterstone’s. What I also loved about Tim’s thought process was that if he had unhappy staff, then he would rather be told by them and for the staff member to move on to allow someone new with enthusiasm to take their place. Waterstone’s also relied on staff members on the ground to be their buyers as it was felt that they really knew and understood what their customer wanted rather than a centralized buying department. I did not know this happened, and I love the personalized service Waterstones used to offer and establish a good understanding of what their customers want and need. Although, I have to say recently in my local Waterstones I felt there was a lack of choice and I knew more about specific books than the staff did as they relied on their manager to know almost everything which was a little disappointing.
“It was at this point that he developed his mantra, communicated to us all more with determination than heart: –
As a statement of intent for the business it encapsulated exactly what mattered, a reliable and brilliant range of books; bookish staff and then control, and this remained the burden of TW’s. We were all massive enthusiasts, purchasing every book published.”
Tim not only wrote about Waterstone’s, but also about his family especially his difficult relationship with his father. I do not want to go into too much detail as you will need to read the book. However, I could feel my heart breaking at his father’s approach to Tim and perhaps a lack of understanding where it comes to dealing with military life. From my own experience, my husband had developed an understanding that our children may say things, not out of hurt but because they lacked any understanding especially when he was away with the Royal Air Force and being so young, they lacked any coping strategies to deal with any emotions they may have had. You could feel this moment really was a pivotal point in Tim’s life and you could feel his determination brewing to be a someone. To do it for himself, to prove a point. And you know what, he has done pretty well and should be very proud of his achievements. Not only did he establish some amazing book shops, but promoted reading and literacy throughout the country and established book communities, even during the difficult times such as recession and when technology changed and e-readers become a thing.
What I found the most entertaining is Tim’s relationship with WH Smith’s, again, I am not going to go into too much detail but it is an interesting dynamic and an interesting relationship that was established earlier than you expect.
I, myself like to go into bookshops, I like to talk with the staff and find out what they recommend, I still like to purchase books, it is an experience that cannot be replaced by e-readers.
The Face Pressed Against A Window, is a beautiful fairytale of Tim’s life and love of books. He had a vision so early about what he wanted in a bookshop and he did not disappoint and was able to make this dream a reality. Even now I could feel his passion for Waterstone’s still there and not waning despite his fights he has had over the years about keeping Waterstone’s brand as it was when he first established his first book shop in the 80s. What was most impressive was Tim’s influence over his staff members and his vision becoming theirs and their help and guidance all lead to the success of Waterstone’s. This is a must-read book, and Tim is certainly a role model in the literary world.
About the Book
Tim Waterstone is one of Britain’s most successful businessmen, having built the Waterstone’s empire that started with one small bookshop in 1982.
In this charming and evocative memoir, he recalls the childhood experience that led him to become an entrepreneur and outlines the business philosophy that allowed Waterstone’s to dominate the bookselling business throughout the country.
Tim explores his formative years in a small town in rural England at the end of the Second World War, and the troubled relationship he had with his father, before moving to the epiphany he had while studying at Cambridge, which set him on the road to Waterstone’s and gave birth to the creative strategy that made him a high street name, and Waterstone’s the largest booksellers in Europe.
The Face Pressed Against A Window is available here
The Face Pressed Against A Window is published by Atlantic Books
To listen to the interview of Tim, please click Iain Dale Book Club